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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 18, New Delhi, April 23, 2016

Nationalism and National Movement

Monday 25 April 2016

by P.C. Jain

The Indian national movement has had a unique feature of being internationalistic. Its nationalism was not conservative, aggressively chauvinistic but inspired by humanitarianism. There was consciousness of what was happening in different parts of the world. This unique feature distinguished it from other national movements of the countries of Asia, Africa and South America. The national struggle was spearheaded by the Indian National Congress which also consisted of parties and groups having different views. For a very long time they were the part of the Congress and when they parted company from it, they unflinchingly supported Indian’s struggle for independence. The national leaders invariably talked of independence of all the colonial countries of Asia and Africa. They considered India’s independence as part of the independence of other enslaved countries.

Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, in his presidential address to the thirtythird session of the Congress held in Delhi in 1918, spoke of the hopes inspired by the Fourteen Points of President Wilson. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a leading radical nationalist, in a letter addressed to Clemenceau, the President of the Peace Conference at Versailles, asserted: “India is self-contained, harbours no design upon the integrity of other states and has no ambition outside. With her vast area, enormous resources and prodigious population, she may well aspire to be a leading power in Asia. She could, therefore, be a powerful steward of the League of Nations in the East for maintaining the peace of the world…….”1

Leaders of the extremist groups of the Congress were ardent internationalists and enlightened humanitarians. They were extreme nationalists but their nationalism was not narrow, aggressive or chauvinistic. Bal Ganga-dhar Tilak, Aurobindo Ghosh, Lajpat Rai and B.C. Pal were the chief representatives of this group. To them, nationalism was only an intermediary step towards the ideal of the unity of mankind.

To quote Aurobindo Ghosh, “as the individual lives by the life of other individuals so does the nation by the life of other nations, by accepting from them material for its own mental, economic and physical life……” They were unequivocal in their condemnation of imperialism and aggressive nationalism which was considered to be an offshoot of the former. They regarded imperialism of the West as an example of the “collective selfishness”, “aberration of human reason” and the “deformation of the truth”. Their nationalism was not an antithesis of internationalism but a necessary step towards the attainment of the ideal of universal brotherhood and it ceased to be true nationalism if it ignored this fact.

Memorable are the words of B.C. Pal who wrote in his forceful style:

“Patriotism is good, excellent, divine only when it furthers the ends of universal humanity. Nationality divorced from humanity is a source of weakness and evil and not the strength and good. Europeans talk of humanity, but their humanity is not humanity, but whitemanity and what is needed of you and me is not to ask for brownanimity but to ask for humanity which includes within itself white, brown, black and yellow, all the races of the world….”2

Some international events of historical importance also exercised tremendous influence on the Indian national movement and helped in giving an international orientation to it.

The Nagpur Congress in 1920 sent a message of sympathy to the Irish people in their struggle for independence and paid its homage to the sacred memory of the great Irish patriot, Mac Swiney. The profoundest and most far-reaching impact that any world event ever had, specially on the young generation, was the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917. It stirred up the soul of India, awakened new national forces and threw them into the Indian imbroglio while opening up new vistas and perspectives creating a new international outlook, understanding and alignment.

From the year 1921 began a new phase in the development of India’s international outlook and consciousness. The Indian National Congress, in its session held in Delhi in 1921, clearly defined its outlook on nationalist India’s relations with her immediate neighbours. It opposed the policy pursued by the alien Government of India in this sphere by passing a resolution to that effect. One of the clauses of this resolution informed the neighbouring and other non-Indian states that “(1) the present government of India in no way represents Indian opinion and that their policy has been traditionally guided by considerations more of India in subjection than of protecting her borders; (2) that India as a self-governing country can have nothing to fear from the neighbouring states or any state, as her people have no design upon any of them and hence no intention of establishing any trade relations hostile to or not desired by the people of such states, and that the people of India regard most of the treaties entered into with the Imperial Government by neighbouring states as mainly designed by the former to perpetuate the exploitation of India by the Imperial Power and would, therefore, urge the states having no ill-will against the people of India and having no desire to injure her interest to refrain from entering into any treaty with the Imperial Power.” (Resolution No. VI)3

EQUALLY significant in this direction was the presidential address of C.R. Das to the thirty-seventh session of the Congress held in Gaya in 1922. For the first time an Indian nationalist leader projected the idea of an Asiatic Federation or a Union of Asian States before Indian consciousness. He significantly declared:

“Even more important than this is partici-pation of India in the great Asiatic Federation which I see in the course of formation. I have hardly any doubt that the Pan-Islamic Move-ment which was started on a somewhat narrow basis has given way or is about to give way to the great Federation of all Asiatic people. It is Union of the oppressed nationalists of Asia. Is India to remain outside this Union? I admit that our freedom must be won by ourselves but such a bond of friendship and love, of sympathy and cooperation between India and the rest of Asia, nay, between India and all the liberty-loving people of the world is destined to bring about world peace. World peace to my mind means the freedom of every nationality and I go further and say that no nation on the face of the earth can be really free when other nations are in bondage.”4

From this point onwards the national movements started taking increasing interest in the trials and tribulations, sufferings and struggles of other people and was exulted at their victory or pained when they were vanquished. Kamal Pasha was acclaimed for the progressive struggle of the people of Turkey. In the Congress session of 1927 held at Madras, it pledged its support to the people of China in their fight for emancipation and lodged its strong protest against the use of Indian forces to further Britain’s imperialist designs in China.

The people of Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Iraq were greeted and acclaimed in their struggle. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru attended the inauragal session of the Second World Congress of the League against Imperialism in February 1927. Anti-imperialism and active sympathy with the oppressed peoples were not confined to Asia but covered the remotest corner of the world. The naked aggression of Ethiopia by Italy was strongly opposed. When the forces of reaction launched an attack to throttle and slaughter Republican Spain, the Congress went on record in support of the progressive forces of democracy and republicanism engaged in their life and death struggle. Pandit Nehru, at great risk, visited war-torn Spain to convey personally India’s sympathies. The Japanese invasion of China was denounced and the boycott of Japanese goods, as a mark of sympathy and solidaritary with the Chinese people, was sponsored.
In a historical resolution of August 1942, the Congress affirmed “the freedom of India must be the symbol of and prelude to the freedom of other Asiatic nations under foreign domination, Burma, Malaya, Indo-China, the Dutch East Indies, Iran, Iraq must also attain their complete freedom. When the independence was still in the offing, an unofficial Asian Relations Conference was convened in New Delhi in March 1947 to discuss common economic, political and cultural problems. The brutal aggression by Dutch imperialism on the nascent Indonesian Republic in December 1948 caused indignation and an uproar of protest in all Asian countries and this was one of the main subjects of discussion in Asian Relations Conference.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “for me patriotism is the same as humanity. I am patriotic because I am human and humane. It is not exclusive…. imperialism has no place in my scheme of life and a patriot is so much the less a patriot if he is lukewarm humanitarian……”5

Rabindranath Tagore was not against one nation in particular but against the general idea of all nations. He called “nationalism a great menace”.6

He had also written:

“India has never had a real sense of nationalism even though from childhood I had been taught that idolating of the nation is almost better than reverence for God and humanity. I believe I have outgrown that teaching and it is my conviction that my countrymen will truly gain their India by fighting against the education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity”.7

For Tagore, the nation is an amoral rather than immoral category, which will never heed the voice of truth and goodness.6

Dr S. Radhakrishnan, a great scholar, philoso-pher and past President of India, has written that “from the Upanishads down to Tagore and Gandhi, Hindu has acknowledged the truth bears vestures of many colours and speaks in strange tongues...…..bearing in this great truth Hinduism developed an attitude of compre-hensive charity instead of fanatic faith in an flexible creed”.8

In almost similar vein the architect of modern, scientific and secular India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has written:

“The nationalist ideal is deep and strong it is not a thing of the past with no future significance but other ideals more based on the ineluctable facts of today, have arisen, the international ideal and the proletarian ideal and there must be some kind of fusion between these various ideals if we are to have a world equilibrium and a lessening of conflict.

“Nevertheless, India for all her intense nationalistic fervor has gone further than many nations to her acceptance of real internationalism and the coordination and even to some extent the subordination of the independent nation state to the World Organisation…”9


1. Iqbal Singh, India’s Foreign Policy.
2. B.C. Pal, Swadeshi and Swaraj, p. 222.
3. Ibid.
4. Congress Presidential addresses (From 1911 to 1934), p. 580.
5. Mahatma Gandhi, India of My Dreams, p. 21.
6. Rabindranath Tagore, Nationalism, p. 73.
7. Ibid., pp 70–71.
8. The Hindu View of Life, pp. 36-37.
9. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Discovery of India, p. 45.

The author is an Associate Professor (retired), Department of Political Science, Bundelkhand College, Jhansi (UP)

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